Coming off a disappointing home loss to Holy Cross, the UConn baseball team returns to American Athletic Conference play this weekend as they travel to East Carolina for a three-game set. The series will be the second between the two teams in 2015 after the Pirates took two out of three games from the Huskies at J.O. Christian Field earlier in the season.
UConn blew a ninth-inning lead against Holy Cross Wednesday in a painful 8-7 loss. With the loss, the Huskies finished 4-5 on their nine-game home stand which began with the series against ECU. With only a conference series against Cincinnati remaining on the home schedule, the Huskies are 5-7 at J.O. Christian Field this season.
“We find a way to make those late innings at J.O. Christian Field a real adventure for ourselves,” head coach Jim Penders said. “I don’t have any explanation for it. It should be getting better and not worse.”
Fortunately for UConn, they lead the nation in road/neutral victories with 23 as they head back out on the road. Two crucial series against tough American Athletic Conference foes remain, with the first this weekend at ECU. The Huskies have fared well in road conference games so far, taking a series at Tulane in March and a series at nationally-ranked UCF in early April.
“We’ve saved some of our most heartbreaking games and bad-execution games for J.O. Christian Field,” Penders said. “Maybe it’s good to get back on the road, where we have performed. We’ve been much more resilient on the road than we have been at home.”
ECU’s 4-3 win over UConn on April 19 was the first of a six-game win streak that helped to vault the Pirates into a four-way tie for first in the American. The win streak ended with a 5-0 loss to Liberty Wednesday, but ECU enters the weekend set with the Huskies having won nine of their last 11 games.
The series will be partly decided by a clash between UConn’s pitching staff, which leads the conference with a 2.68 ERA, and ECU’s hitters, which place second in the conference with a .289 average. The Pirates also boast an impressive set of arms, holding a 2.98 ERA.
The Huskies’ starting pitching trio of Carson Cross, Anthony Kay and Jordan Tabakman will face a tough task in stifling an ECU lineup that features five regulars hitting over .300, including starting pitcher Reid Love. Love kept UConn guessing in the rubber game of the mid-April series between the two teams, racking up a career-high eight strikeouts as the Pirates claimed a 4-3 victory in 10 innings.
The UConn bats will need to produce to support their pitchers as the Huskies look to add more road conference wins to their postseason resume. Look for Jack Sundberg to get on base often and attempt to add to his total of 28 stolen bases, the seventh-highest total in the country. Vinny Siena leads the team with a .364 batting average and should be an offensive catalyst, while Max McDowell and Joe DeRoche-Duffin will look to add to their team-leading home run totals.
While Penders acknowledged his team’s struggles in Connecticut, he expressed hope that winning on the road will go a long way for the Huskies.
“We have to play with a lot more confidence. Right now, we don’t look like a very confident ball club. You have to figure out a way to do that away from home, which may be a good thing.”